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Andretti Climbs To Top Of Charts At Indianapolis

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 17 2018

Marco Andretti drove his Honda-power Andretti Autosport car to the top lap at Indy on Wednesday. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Third-generation Indy car driver Marco Andretti took Andretti Autosport and Honda to the top of the speed chart with a lap over 227 mph during Wednesday’s seven-hour practice for the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500.

Andretti’s best lap of 227.053 mph around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval led a group of four Honda-powered drivers atop the time sheet one day after Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud set the pace for the Chevrolet camp in Tuesday’s opening practices.

“Checking off the boxes right now. A lot of test items,” said Andretti, son of Verizon IndyCar Series team-owner Michael Andretti and grandson of 1969 Indy 500 champion Mario Andretti. “We got through a ton of stuff actually. It was a pretty productive day. We got the car to almost there in traffic. We’re not there yet. But, you know, I’m sure everybody’s dealing with a similar thing.

But, you know, we think we have a direction, which is positive. We just later in the week need to confirm that hopefully.”

Chasing his 13th consecutive start in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” Andretti began his career at IMS with a second-place finish in the 2006 race won by Sam Hornish Jr. for Team Penske. Andretti settled for Rookie of the Year honors at IMS, as well as the season.

Marco scored the first of his two series victories on the Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway road-

Driver Marco Andretti says his team is making progress at Indy.

course in June 2006. But he has been winless since posting his only series oval-track victory at Iowa Speedway in June 2011. In contrast, Grandpa Mario is an open-wheel icon who retired with 52 victories and four Indy car championships. Father Michael won 42 races and one championship in a star-crossed career.

Marco has logged 174 laps of practice in his bid to figure out sanctioning body INDYCAR’s new-for-2018 Dallara universal aerodynamic chassis.

“We’re P1 right now. It’s still early days,” said Marco, a 31-year-old native and resident of Nazareth, Pa. “We don’t know how the race is going to play out yet. The car feels good. It’s just circumstances have to work out really. I mean, this place picks the winners. I’ve had the best cars ever here and not been victorious for some reason.”

Scott Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 winner and four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion, was second-fast with a lap of 226.329 mph in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

“I think the car was decent,” Dixon said. “The conditions were probably more favorable around lunchtime. (In) the heat of the day, we went through some struggles, went through some pretty big changes.

“A long story short, we ended up finding a couple of good changes. The second-to-last run was fairly decent as far as being comfortable in the car, kind of being very consistent. That was nice. We just ran full downforce all day and tried to work with the car and find better combinations just for being comfortable in traffic and trying to get the car a little more grip.”

Reigning Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato was third overall at 226.108 mph in the No. 30 Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, with rookie Robert Wickens fourth in the No. 6 SPM Honda at 226.086 mph.

Mid-day we were struggling a little bit in terms of balance but we were trying to find new philosophies,” said Sato, who won here last May driving for Andretti Autosport. “In the evening I think we were finally able to do a quite good run in the pack, which was quite encouraging. Still, there are a few bits and pieces we need to get sorted (out) because I had a huge moment in traffic. We’ll be heads down the next two days and do our jobs and hopefully keep climbing up the chart and make the car faster.”

Charlie Kimball led the Chevrolet-powered drivers and was fifth overall with a lap of 225.887 mph in the No. 23 Fiasp entry for Carlin. Pagenaud posted a best lap of 225.787 mph in his No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet during a two-hour session that opened practice on Tuesday. Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, a three-time Indy 500 champion, was fastest in Tuesday’s three-hour, end-of-day session at 224.665 mph. Castroneves’ lap in the No. 3 Team Penske Chevy ranked second overall.

“Another solid day for the team,” said Kimball, who spent the previous seven seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing. “This place is just such a challenge because you don’t always know where you are, relative to others speed-wise. Most of the big numbers come from big tows but at the same time, we were pretty happy with our pace and speed out on our own.

“Going into the next couple of days I think we have a solid plan of what we need to work on and on Friday we’ll have an eye toward Saturday with the high booster level and qualifying spec. Tomorrow afternoon we’ll work on that. This afternoon, we did some race stuff. We have some ground to cover and could make some progress there, but I know that we’ve learned a lot.”

Danica Patrick, who will complete her INDYCAR and NASCAR racing careers at this year’s Indy 500, was 12th on the speed chart in the No. 13 Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing at 224.570 mph. “I ran in traffic virtually all day,” said Patrick, the 2005 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year. “I feel like that’s going to pay off in the long run. We still have to make the car better, but me getting more comfortable is also going to help that process. So, all in all, it was another good, productive day.”

All 35 entered drivers recorded track time, totaling 3,349 laps without incident. Fifteen drivers turned more than 100 laps each, led by James Hinchcliffe with 129 in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda.

All of the fast laps were completed with the aid of an aerodynamic tow from leading cars in a group. The best lap of the day without a tow went to 2013 Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan at 223.048 mph in the No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet.

We took today to learn different things about how the car is working, tried a few different things,” said Kanaan, the 2004 series champion for Andretti Green Racing. “It’s just another day at the Speedway, really just going through the motions. We are trying to put together what I call “our cookbook.” Throughout the month, you put together a cookbook, then on race day you go through your cookbook and see what recipe suits you the most. We will continue to move forward from here.”

Practice is scheduled to resume Thursday from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (EDT), ahead of “Fast Friday” when engine turbocharger boost is increased by INDYCAR, generating higher speeds for practice and weekend time trials.

Qualifying is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, when the grid will be set and bumping into the traditional 33-car field is expected for the first time in seven years. Race day is Sunday, May 27 (11 a.m. EDT) with television coverage on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has announced a partnership with AFS Racing for co-entry of the No. 7 One Cure Honda driven by Jay Howard in the 102nd Indy 500. The partnership will see SPM personnel utilizing AFS Racing’s equipment.

Owner Gary Peterson and AFS Racing have a long history in motorsports, including fielding a pair of Indy Lights champions  _ Raphael Matos in 2008 and JR Hildebrand in 2009 _ and competing in the Verizon IndyCar Series and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

“Gary and I have been fierce competitors in Indy Lights for quite some time, but in spite of that, he and (wife) Tammi have become great friends off the track,” said Sam Schmidt, co-owner of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports along with Ric Peterson (no relation to Gary Peterson). “Although he has decided to go sports car racing, he still has a tremendous passion for the Indy 500 and everything it means in the world of motorsports.

“Gary brings not only quality assets to the program, but also vast experience and knowledge which will be very valuable throughout the month.” 

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James Hinchcliffe needed 22 pints of blood to survive a life-threatening crash in practice prior to the 2015 Indianapolis 500. The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver has made it a priority to return the favor.

Hinchcliffe and the American Red Cross are teaming for a special blood drive at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Monday, May 21, with the goal to collect 105 donations. The first 100 people to donate will receive a free access pass into Hinchcliffe’s garage in Gasoline Alley during the Indy 500 practice day on the 2.5-mile oval.

“It took something like what happened to me for me to understand the (supply) problem,” Hinchcliffe said. “I’m working with the Red Cross to do whatever I can to raise awareness about the issue and try to draw people to blood donation.”

The “Hinchcliffe Hundred” Blood Drive is supported by INDYCAR, IMS and the IU Health Foundation. It will take place from noon-6 p.m. (EDT) in Legends Row adjacent to Gasoline Alley. Donors must be at least 18 years of age and have a gate admission ticket for entry into the track, with free parking available inside Turn 3 of the oval while it lasts.

A free gate ticket will be emailed to each donor who registers in advance to donate. To register, visit https://rdcrss.org/2IbkEMw or call (800) RED-CROSS and use the sponsor code: HinchcliffeHundred.

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Combined practice results Wednesday for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 Verizon IndyCar Series race on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, with rank, car number in parentheses, driver, engine, session, time/speed and total laps completed:

  1. (98) Marco Andretti, Honda, Practice 3, 00:39.6383-seconds/227.053 mph, 174
  2. (9) Scott Dixon-(C), Honda, Practice 3, 00:39.7651/226.329, 166
  3. (30) Takuma Sato-(C) Honda, Practice 3, 00:39.8039/226.108, 179
  4. (6) Robert Wickens-(R), Honda, Practice 3, 00:39.8078/226.086, 165
  5. (23) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, Practice 3, 00:39.8430/225.887, 133
  6. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, Practice 1, 00:39.8605/225.787, 185
  7. (14) Tony Kanaan-(C), Chevrolet, Practice 3, 00:39.8688/225.740, 97
  8. (88) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, Practice 3, 00:39.9158/225.475, 121
  9. (20) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, Practice 3, 00:39.9709/225.164, 158
  10. (64) Oriol Servia, Honda, Practice 3, 00:40.0118/224.934, 132
  11. (24) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, Practice 3, 00:40.0201/224.887, 143
  12. (1) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, Practice 3, 00:40.0417/224.766, 150
  13. (3) Helio Castroneves-(C), Chevrolet, Practice 2, 00:40.0597/224.665, 165
  14. (13) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, Practice 3, 00:40.0766/224.570, 124
  15. (29) Carlos Munoz, Honda, Practice 3, 00:40.0780/224.562, 197
  16. (21) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, Practice 3, 00:40.0812/224.544, 161
  17. (7) Jay Howard, Honda, Practice 3, 00:40.0821/224.539, 182
  18. (4) Matheus Leist-(R), Chevrolet, Practice 3, 00:40.0879/224.507, 59
  19. (59) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, Practice 3, 00:40.0978/224.451, 141
  20. (27) Alexander Rossi-(C), Honda, Practice 3, 00:40.1404/224.213, 196
  21. (66) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, Practice 3, 00:40.1556/224.128, 125
  22. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, Practice 3, 00:40.1778/224.004, 180
  23. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay-(C), Honda, Practice 3, 00:40.1859/223.959, 209
  24. (60) Jack Harvey, Honda, Practice 3, 00:40.1923/223.923, 224
  25. (63) Pippa Mann, Honda, Practice 3, 00:40.2445/223.633, 97
  26. (26) Zach Veach, Honda, Practice 3, 00:40.2461/223.624, 188
  27. (10) Ed Jones, Honda, Practice 3, 00:40.2518/223.592, 134
  28. (33) James Davison, Chevrolet, Practice 2, 00:40.2963/223.346, 95
  29. (32) Kyle Kaiser-(R), Chevrolet, Practice 3, 00:40.3128/223.254, 151
  30. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, Practice 3, 00:40.3262/223.180, 193
  31. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, Practice 3, 00:40.3325/223.145, 161
  32. (17) Conor Daly, Honda, Practice 3, 00:40.4200/222.662, 96
  33. (25) Stefan Wilson, Honda, Practice 2, 00:40.4451/222.524, 140
  34. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, Practice 3, 00:40.5220/222.102, 153
  35. (19) Zachary Claman De Melo-(R), Honda, Practice 3, 00:40.5729/221.823, 83

Total Laps for Combined Sessions _ 5,257

(C) _ Past indy 500 champion; (R) _ Rookie of the Year candidate

Note _ All teams competing with Dallara IR-12 universal aero chassis with either Chevrolet or Honda twin-turbocharged V-6 engines on Firestone Firehawk tires.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 17 2018
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